“Man’s mind, once stretched by an idea, never regains its original shape.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
You enjoy reading books. You want to read more often. But you’re always stretched for time with more important (read urgent) tasks. As a result, the time you spend reading is about ten percent of what you want to.
On the other hand, wildly successful people incorporate reading as a mandatory part of their daily routine. Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day. Bill Gates reads one book each week. Oprah discusses her favorite books with readers each month in the popular “Oprah’s Book Club 2.0”. Stephen King reads for a whopping five hours a day. In fact, he’s been spotted reading at Red Sox games too. When Elon Musk was asked how he learned to build rockets he answered, “I read books.”
How do tycoons read more books in less time? You, contrastingly, have much more time than them. Yet, you cannot keep up with half the number of books as them.
Why Read Books At All?
Okay. You’re not a voracious reader. Heck, maybe you don’t like reading at all. You’ve got better things to do. Like watch Netflix, read the latest gossip about celebs or irresponsible comment a politician made and outrage over it, or just veg out with your smartphone.
I’ve got some bad news for you. None of this will help you improve – professionally or personally. Your dreams of leading a better life, becoming more productive, will remain just that… dreams.
Let’s talk about how reading good books benefits you:
- It reduces stress. A 2009 study by Sussex University Researchers showed that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent.
- It helps you sleep better. Reading a book just before bed relaxes you. A screen, on the other hand, punishes your eyes and hurts your sleep.
- It increases your intelligence. Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes intelligence as “not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.” And recent scientific studies confirm that reading and intelligence have a relationship so close it’s symbiotic. Reading makes you a sharper ‘connect-the-dots’ kind of person.
- It increases empathy. Research proves that reading literary fiction (not pop fiction) supports and teaches human beings values about social behavior, including the importance of understanding those who are different from us.
Reading turns you into an interesting set of paradoxes. The more you read, the more you discover how ignorant you are, and the wiser you become. You become discerning yet passionate. You take off your rose-tinted glasses and instead, wear clear lenses through which you can see exactly how the world functions, and why.
Convinced that reading more is good? Good.
How to Read More in Less Time
I’ll share some insider hacks on reading which experts recommend highly. I’ve followed these steps diligently since the beginning of this year diligently. They’ve set me on course to read at least 20 books this year. These tips will help you do the same, despite your busy schedule. And I don’t mean light reading material, but intense, revealing stuff.
When you look in the mirror at the end of the year, you’ll marvel at how far you’ve come.
Right so. Let’s get down to business.
1. Read 20 Pages a Day
Productivity expert James Clear suggests that you read just 20 pages a day. It’s a pattern small enough to not appear intimidating, and can be accomplished easily.
Most people can read between 200 – 400 words per minute (test your reading speed here). A book often holds 250 – 300 words per page. This means you can finish reading 20 pages in around 30 minutes.
At this rate, you’ll read close to 600 pages a month – equal to 2 books. Extrapolate that to a year and you’ve read 20+ books, even if you slip up occasionally.
As mentioned before, I’ve started using this technique since February and am already close to completing my fourth book.
2. Use the First Hour
How do you spend your first hour? Checking your smartphone? Getting ready for work and rushing out the door? Moping over how you hate going to work?
Accomplished performers, artists, writers, CEOs and entrepreneurs have a morning routine which is the exact opposite. They reserve the first hour solely for self-learning.
The first hour is when you’re fresh. Rise one hour before you regularly do, and you’ll get 45 undisturbed minutes to read. Since you can read 20 pages in 30 minutes, this is all the time you need. You also can slip in 10 minutes of meditation or exercise if it’s part of your routine. This morning time is yours. Then you can carry your day out without worrying about reading.
If my brain is abuzz with ideas, I use the first hour to write, and read after breakfast. Otherwise, I dedicate the first hour to meditation and reading.
Of course, you can also read at the end of the day. But if you’ve had an exhausting or frustrating day, your mind won’t be in it. So get done with your 20 pages in the morning. If you’re a night owl, you can read 10 pages in the morning and 10 at night.
This habit also makes you consume less ‘entertainment’ at night and get a restful sleep. Imagine how many benefits you’ll reap just by reading a book during the first hour of the day.
3. Explore Different Genres
Ever noticed how your perspective changes when you read a book on a subject you don’t know much about? Reading different genres stimulates your brain and gives you different vicarious experiences, according to the Open Education Database.
A Stanford Research states that close literary reading – careful, sustained interpretation of a paragraph of text – gives your brain a workout in multiple complex cognitive functions, while pleasure reading increases blood flow to different areas of the brain.
Reading too much of the same genre exhausts me. Hence, I often switch to books outside my comfort zone of non-fiction.
4. Take Notes
Mere reading isn’t enough. You want to take something away from a book, even if it’s literary fiction.
Ryan Holiday uses a notecard system, where he captures his thoughts in note cards and categorizes them according to subject. You can do the same. Alternately, if you’re not the note cards type of person, you can create separate notes for each book in Evernote.
This helps more than highlighting and underlining text in 3 ways: First, jotting notes makes you articulate, thus understanding what you read better. Second, it gathers all your notes (and personal thoughts) in a common accessible place. Third, the crisp notes can double up as a summary of the book. You can access them notes at your convenience without being forced to scan through the entire length of book.
5. Change Your Mindset
If you have to read a book, it’s a task and competes for your time. But if you want to read a book, you will find time, just like you do for social media and Netflix.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by the thought of what you should read next. Browse through articles on what your heroes read, and pick those books up. You can also refer to Amazon reviews to find interesting books.
Or you can cash in on the latest trend of referring to curated online lists of your genre. So give them a dekko.
6. Allow Yourself Breaks
Sometimes, you might feel swamped by too much of reading. It’s okay to take a break once in a while.
At such times, expose yourself to activities which keep you away from books. You’ll soon return to reading, rejuvenated and ready to start.
Pamper Your Mind And Soul
You spend a lot of time attending to others and addressing the urgent and unimportant. But you rarely spend time doing something for yourself, something which satiates your mind and soul. You don’t read much because people who see you doing so call you selfish. It’s not work, they say.
Guess what! Like always, they’re wrong. Any time used to improve yourself is work. It’s time well invested. And reading books makes you improve yourself.
You have to realize that life is more than the crappy everyday grind. But how will you, if you continue living the everyday grind? Books are your secret weapon to discover what life can offer. They make you kinder, humbler, wiser and empathetic. And God knows we need people like that today.
So do something today, not for your monkey brain, but for your soul. And then, do it tomorrow. And the day after. Read 20 pages a day. Take notes. Read different genres. Change your mindset.
And you’ll change your life.